Jason Wu/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

A Cornell Football player drinks water on the sideline, Schoellkopf Field, September 24, 2022.

October 26, 2022

First-Year Student Athletes Share their College Experience

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As first-year students across campus have spent the first half of their first semester forming friendships, first-year student athletes are also building relationships with their teammates, often by eating together.

Winter Wallace ’26, a member of the men’s ice hockey team, explained that the team finished practice at 5:30 p.m. two days per week and at 6 p.m. two days per week, but smoothies, stretching, saunas and ice baths after practice mean that he arrives at North Campus dining halls around 8 p.m.

Because many team practices run as late as 8 p.m., Cornell Dining provides dining options and spaces for these team meals to occur, even after practice is over. Evan Nesmith ’26, a member of the football team, said that although there are options on campus that ensure teams can eat, he still wishes for longer dining hall hours. Most dining halls close between 7-9 p.m., sending student athletes to late night eateries like Bear Necessities instead. 

Caleb Straayer ’26, a member of the men’s track team, agreed with Nesmith, but acknowledged that there are challenges with keeping the dining hall open later. He is optimistic about a potential solution.

“It’d be great if they could be open ‘til later although I am aware, of course, of the staffing issues, so somehow finding a way around that problem would definitely be beneficial for student athletes,” Straayer said.

Although students like Wallace are happy with the meal options available at dining halls and said that workers do a good job restocking food even near closing time, others like Josh Shea ’26 (who plays for the men’s baseball team) think there is room for progress, such as increasing protein and healthy starch options that athletes rely on for energy, and keeping stations open longer.

“There are days where it feels easy to get the necessary nutrition and days where it feels difficult, so I think having more consistency when it comes to healthy options would be great,” Shea said. “Additionally, extending the breakfast hours would be huge because after a morning workout and class, it would be great to still be able to get some breakfast foods in the morning.”

Mallika Ketkar ’26, a member of the women’s fencing team, is pleased with the dining hall hours.

“I think there’s definitely a lot of options after practice. The dining halls are open pretty long, which is nice,” said Mallika Ketkar.

Ketkar appreciated the diverse array of options at the dining halls.

“They have a lot of good healthy options…I think the food is great. I love the dessert options, too,” said Mallika Ketkar.

Nesmith said that eating most of his dinners with his team is a big part of the football experience.

“We’ll all just eat together and hang out,” Nesmith said. “I feel like that’s a really good part of the bonding experience with my teammates, just sitting down, having a meal, talking about our day, talking about what problems we might have, so I think that’s a big highlight for me.” 

Shea said that the baseball team also takes advantage of meals as an opportunity to spend time together.

“We pretty much eat dinner together every night after practice and will meet up during the day to get food when our schedules co-align,” said Shea.

Shea also said that his connections with teammates have played a role in striking a work-life balance.

“I’d say the members of my team definitely help, especially the older ones because they have been through a lot of the same things already,” said Shea.

Sports teams also bond through other activities, such as studying together and a first-year scavenger hunt. Ketki Ketkar ’26, a member of the women’s fencing team, said that the tight-knit, supportive community extends to the coaches as well.

“Our coaches are always there to talk to you in case you need help,” said Ketki Ketkar.

In addition to teammate and coach support, there are many other resources available to help student athletes succeed. Both Mallika Ketkar and Ketki Ketkar appreciate the plethora of resources and are already taking advantage of them.

“There’s a lot of support, even through athletics, like I do tutoring through athletics for chem, which I think is really helpful,” said Ketki Ketkar. “I think they’re doing a pretty good job as far as support services for athletes.”

These student-athletes are all finding ways to maintain their work-life balance and adjust to life as college athletes, which for students like Shea, can look like nature walks on campus.

“If I’m able to enjoy the little things like the walk by Beebe Lake and listening to music in my dorm then my day is a whole lot better,” Shea said. “Also the nature at Cornell is something I really enjoy. It is also great to be able to have study spaces all over campus.”

Straayer focuses on doing his best from both an academic and athletic standpoint. He also says that competitiveness and community are his favorite parts of being on the track team.

Nesmith appreciates being a student athlete and the life lessons that it teaches.

“For the most part, things have been really good…It’s almost like a blessing in the sense that I get to come to a really good school and play a sport that I love so much and fulfill that dream of doing it at the Division I level,” Nesmith said. “So I say it’s definitely a great experience and it’s definitely worth it.”

Wallace offered two-pronged advice for prospective student-athletes: time management and humility.

“Time management’s everything and then don’t walk around campus like you’re anything special,” Wallace said. “Just take care of your business and go on with your day.”